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What’s the difference between detergent and disinfectants?

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The effective cleaning of surfaces plays a key role in infection control within a dental practice. In an environment where there’s a high risk of splashing and spraying of saliva, blood and oral tissue, it essential that instruments, equipment and surfaces are kept clean and hygienic at all times. To best protect patients and team members, it’s important that all employees understand the difference between cleaning agents such as detergents and disinfectants.


Both detergents and disinfectants have deep cleaning properties, but they serve different purposes. Used together, they’re powerful products that provide a thorough clean that both physically removes germs and destroys any harmful microorganisms on surfaces. However, if they’re used incorrectly, they can be harmful to workers and fail to deliver the expected protection from bacteria and viruses.  


Read on to explore some of the differences between detergents and disinfectants and how they can be used together to provide the ultimate protection for your dental practice.

What is a detergent?

Detergents are cleaning solutions that physically remove impurities and contaminants from surfaces. They contain surfactants (surface active agents), which are chemical compounds that stir up activity on the surface being cleaned and promote the lifting of dirt and germs. 


In dental practices, detergents are used to remove oil, blood, dust and other types of grime that accumulate over time, reducing the risk of these contaminants spreading infection. It’s important to know that while detergents are very effective at removing dirt and contaminants that may harbour pathogens, they don’t kill bacteria and viruses.

Household detergents versus clinical detergents

There’s also a huge difference between detergents that have been designed for use at home, and those created for clinical settings. 


Household detergents like dishwashing liquids are generally made with a focus on being mild on the skin and having a pleasant scent. They’re formulated to have a neutral pH (about 7.0) and contain moisturisers and other additives that may interfere with the cleaning process. If used on instruments and equipment in a dentistry setting, household detergents might leave unwanted films and residues.     


Hospital-grade detergents are formulated to leave a streak less, residue-free finish on all surfaces. They can be used to clean dental chairs, operation tables, examination lights, medical devices and other sensitive surfaces within dental practices.    

What is a disinfectant?

Disinfectants are chemical solutions that destroy or inactivate microorganisms on a surface – however, they don’t necessarily physically remove these germs. For is disinfectant to be effective, a surface should be pre-cleaned with a detergent before the disinfectant is used.

Applying disinfectants effectively

A disinfectant will only provide the expected protection if it’s applied correctly – instructions regarding the required contact time, wiping technique and dilution (if required) must be followed. 

Contact time refers to how long the disinfectant should be left in contact with the surface for before that surface is used. A spray-and-wipe approach isn’t necessarily effective as some disinfectants need an exposure period of 5 or 10 minutes to kill bacteria and viruses. Products like Clinicare Hospital Grade Disinfectant and Clinell Universal Sanitising Wipes offer a rapid contact time and so are a good choice for a busy dental practice.        

The wiping technique will differ depending on whether a pre-saturated disinfectant wipe is used, or the disinfectant is sprayed onto a surface and wiped with a cloth.

Liquid disinfectants may need to be diluted before use, with the concentration variable depending on the contamination of the surface to be cleaned. Many dental practices prefer to use disinfectant wipes as they’re convenient, disposable and contain the correct amount of disinfectant.

Detergents & Disinfectants - What's The Difference Gienic Dental

Are disinfectant wipes a good option for dentists?

Disinfectant wipes are an increasingly popular choice for dental clinics, however, it’s important to ensure your team uses the right disinfectant wipe for the job. Alcohol-based wipes are a convenient option for cleaning hard surfaces, but they can damage and degrade expensive equipment like dental chairs, electronics and lights. 

At Gienic, we stock a range of wipes suitable for all dental clinic cleaning needs – from neutral detergent wipes to alcohol-free and alcohol-based sanitising wipes. Our hospital-grade products support your practice to maintain high levels of infection control and we’re proud to offer a best price guarantee. Visit www.gienic.com.au or call (03) 9008 6358 to experience the Gienic difference today!

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